Observations from my first visit
Located within a landmarked building in the Flatiron district originally called “The Church Mission” which is the New York home for Fotografiska, a Stockholm-based photography museum, is Verōnika. This restaurant is the latest from Stephen Starr and is designed by powerhouse design studio Roman and Williams. When I read about the opening in late 2019, I was quick to make a reservation so curious I was about the renovation to a historic Beaux-Arts building, the lush design and of course, the menu. Chef Robert Aikens has worked for Starr at one of his Philadelphia restaurants as well as New York’s famed Rainbow Room. The inspiration for Verōnika is said to come from grand European cafes and accordingly, the dishes draw from France, Austria and Eastern Europe.
Atmosphere and design: The second floor restaurant and bar is reached by stairs and through a darkened hallway. The bar area is built with an impressive black marble and a delicate stained-glass window original to the building. In addition to the grandiose 20-foot ceiling in the dining area, what struck me was the luxury of lighting. Chandeliers, wall lights and heavy egg-like table lamps work together to generate warmth yet as well as mood.
No expense was spared on the seating (mohair, leather, velvet) or tabletops (marble). And perhaps correspondingly, thought was also put into acoustics as the noise was muted even with almost every spot in the 146-seat space was taken.
Menu: The promise is to “take you on a culinary journey from Paris to Budapest” and so the menu includes dishes like escargot and consommé, liverwurst and wiener schnitzel, and potato pierogi and lamb goulash. Extravagance can be found in a caviar section on the menu, and other European classics like beef stroganov, chicken paprikash, and dover sole also dot the menu. There are a few vegetarian plates scattered through each section. Oh yes, and there are daily specials.
Dishes: We started with the poppyseed milk bread with cultured butter and dill oil. The warm mini-loaf was deep brown and really covered with poppyseeds, and was like a brioche/milk bread/parker roll, i.e. very yummy. Still, I worried about poppyseeds getting stuck in my teeth.
I was excited to try the potato pierogi with sour cream and caviar. The dish is served room temperature and was good/fine but a little monotone in flavor and texture. But I should’ve known that, given the components.
The soufflé suissese with mornay sauce was rich and decadent (and not heavy and congeal-y). It is a rather generous serving and could serve as a main course.
Consommé nana is not the chef’s unique take on consommé (I looked it up in The Soup Book) but a specific type of consommé! Light and flavorful–it was excellent. You could taste the hours of preparation.
The chicories and herb salad with aged gouda and anchovy herb vinaigrette was also flavorful and a good mix of textures.
I went for the Monday special which is feuilleté au poulet which came out like a chicken pot pie as it was served in a copper pot, under a big flaky puff pastry dome. Instructions were to break the top and inhale the truffle aroma, and then stir. This dish is very rich and hearty. It is a bit tedious to keep spooning and scooping. I saw another guest asked for it to be emptied upside down which aside some potential spray, isn’t a bad idea.
There is a dessert trolley which I had spied getting navigated to different tables during the meal, but I was beyond stuffed.
Overall: The staff is professional and attentive, with many observant eyes ensuring a smooth and mindful dining service. With only a few weeks of operations under its belt, the front- and back-staff seemed to be in sync. Very impressive.
I completely enjoyed my dining experience and found the dishes to be well-prepared and rich in flavor. The preparation leans towards decadence so one needs to be mindful in ordering, so that you leave room for dessert!
Verōnika, 281 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10010